Yes / No Questions

Lesson 4.2 Yes / No Questions

4.2.1  We use yes / no questions when we want to confirm or deny something:

  • ‘Do you like peanut butter?’ ‘Yes.’
  • ‘Did you take your brother’s pencil?’ ‘No.’

Yes / no questions are one of two main kinds of questions in English, along with wh- questions (see Lesson 4.1). They are ‘closed questions’ – where the answer is limited to a few standard responses – while wh- questions are ‘open questions’ with open and unlimited answers.

4.2.2  When somebody asks a yes / no question, they generally want to receive a clear yes or no answer – confirmation or denial. This is in contrast to wh- questions where the questioner wants to find out information:

  • ‘Did you borrow my car last night?’ ‘Yes.’
  • ‘Where did you go?’ ‘I drove to the beach.’

4.2.3  There are four possible answers to yes / no questions:

  • yes
  • maybe / perhaps / possibly
  • no
  • I don’t know

4.2.4  In writing, punctuation is important to show that a sentence is a question. For example, this is not a question:

  • do you know how to make a cake

We need to add a capital letter at the beginning of the sentence and a question mark at the end:

  • Do you know how to make a cake?

4.2.5  The word order in yes / no questions is usually:

For example:

This means that it is necessary to know the auxiliary verb(s) in each tense. It is well worth learning this important information by heart:

For example:

4.2.6  If the tense is present simple or past simple, and the main verb in the sentence is BE, we use BE to make the yes / no questions because there is no auxiliary verb. Compare:

4.2.7  Whether we use an auxiliary verb (including modal auxiliary verbs like can, must, might, and will) or BE, we need to use inversion to make yes / no questions. Inversion occurs when we reverse (invert) the word order of subject and verb:

A very common error is when a student forgets to use inversion, but instead relies on a rising intonation at the end of the sentence to signal that they are asking a question:

You are a dentist?  (no inversion)    Correction: Are you a dentist?

You have eaten pasta?  (no inversion)    Correction: Have you eaten pasta?

4.2.8  If somebody asks us a yes / no question, we can answer with a short answer, either repeating the auxiliary verb or not. It is not necessary to reply with a full answer, and a short answer sounds much more natural:

‘Do you like playing football?’

‘Yes.’    (no auxiliary verb)

‘Yes, I do.’    (with auxiliary verb)

‘Yes, I like playing football.’    (not required – too much information)

It sounds better if we use the auxiliary verb. The questioner will usually begin a yes / no question with an auxiliary verb, so we simply need to use the same auxiliary verb at the end of our short answer. We mirror the questioner’s auxiliary verb. (Note: as usual BE has to be different!)

4.2.9  The auxiliary verb and subject (if it’s a pronoun) in yes / no questions are function words, and therefore not usually stressed. In spoken English, this can lead to some contractions and short forms, where these function words are squashed together to make them weaker, so that the main verb (content word) sounds stronger. (See Lesson 3.3 Intonation.) For example, the questions above may be shortened as follows:

Do you drive…?    ‘Do you’ is squeezed together to make one syllable:  j

j Draiv…?

Are you driving?    ‘Are you’ is contracted to make two short syllables:  uh y

uh y Drai ving…?

More examples with Clear Alphabet (see Lesson 1.6):

Note how in past simple ‘did you’ sounds the same as ‘do you’ in present simple:  j. We rely on the time phrase (‘last night’) to inform us that the time is finished time.

4.2.10  Yes / no questions have rising intonation. (See also Lesson 3.3 Intonation.) For example:

It is the rising intonation that alerts the listener to the fact that you are asking a question. Try asking somebody a yes / no question without rising intonation, and see what response you get! It may be that you do not get any response at all. This contrasts with wh- questions, which generally have falling intonation.

Instead of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ there are a number of sounds that we can make which signal either answer. (See also Lesson 3.3 Intonation.) This saves us the trouble of opening our mouths to form words! For example:

4.2.11  Yes / no questions are not information questions. They are usually asked to get a quick answer – a confirmation or denial. We cannot learn a great deal about the person’s problem, story, or opinion by asking only yes / no questions:

A: ‘Did you go to hospital last week?’

B: ‘Yes.’

A: ?? … (there is an information vacuum)

We usually need to follow up yes / no questions with wh- questions:

A: ‘Did you go to hospital last week?’

B: ‘Yes.’

A: ‘Why?’

B: ‘Because I was visiting my sister.’

However, there is a fun game called ‘The Yes / No Game’ where you have to guess somebody’s word by asking only yes / no questions. This rather frustrating game demonstrates quite well why we need to ask follow-up wh- questions in real life! (See Exercises, below.)


Ex. 4.2.1 Writing  Rearrange the words in each sentence to make a question:

  1. this right the is bus __________________________________________
  2. you like crisps do plain __________________________________________
  3. glasses are your these __________________________________________
  4. going tomorrow are to you the night concert ______________________________________
  5. the he guitar playing is __________________________________________
  6. going are my all we car in __________________________________________
  7. last watch did film you night that __________________________________________
  8. results your about you ask did __________________________________________
  9. on parcel arrive time your did __________________________________________
  10. grass the you have cutting finished __________________________________________
  11. week phoned have your you this auntie __________________________________________
  12. finished has work yet Joanne __________________________________________
  13. football tomorrow play you will __________________________________________
  14. will someone like how find you I else __________________________________________
  15. theatre will tickets the any have __________________________________________
  16. dishwasher finish will soon the __________________________________________

Ex. 4.2.2 Writing  Write 10 yes / no questions to ask your friend / classmate / family member. Write down their answers:

  1. __________________________________________________________________________
  2. __________________________________________________________________________
  3. __________________________________________________________________________
  4. __________________________________________________________________________
  5. __________________________________________________________________________
  6. __________________________________________________________________________
  7. __________________________________________________________________________
  8. __________________________________________________________________________
  9. __________________________________________________________________________
  10. __________________________________________________________________________

Ex. 4.2.3 Writing  Write the auxiliary verb(s) for each tense:

Ex. 4.2.4 Reading  i) Match the questions and answers:

  1. Do these films have subtitles?             g) Yes, it has.
  2. Does it often rain here?             l) Yes, we did.
  3. Did you win the competition?             q) No, she can’t.
  4. Have they got back from the dentist’s?             a) Yes, you are.
  5. Has he ever been abroad?             k) Yes, I do.
  6. Are we going swimming now?             p) No, she didn’t.
  7. Is the main course ready?             f) Yes, there will.
  8. Am I the first person to get here?             m) Yes, there is.
  9. Will there be any veggie food at the barbecue?             h) Yes, they do.
  10. Can Rachael stay for dinner?             t) No, it isn’t.
  11. Could you chew gum in class?             r) No, I wouldn’t.
  12. Would you like living in Provence?             b) Yes, they have.
  13. Do you need a holiday?             n) No, they haven’t.
  14. Did Amy take the final exam?             i) No, he won’t.
  15. Have Neil and Elena moved house?             d) No, it doesn’t.
  16. Has it been raining?             o) Yes, I can.
  17. Are you going to the meeting at nine?             s) No, we couldn’t.
  18. Is there a car park near here?             c) No, I’m not.
  19. Will Ian join the team next year?             j) Yes, he has.
  20. Can you count to a hundred?             e) No, we are not.

ii) Write a different question that matches each answer.

Ex. 4.2.5 Writing  Write a quiz with yes / no questions about your favourite topic, e.g. a book, film, place, celebrity, etc. to ask your friend / classmate / family member. Write down their answers:

  1. __________________________________________________________________________
  2. __________________________________________________________________________
  3. __________________________________________________________________________
  4. __________________________________________________________________________
  5. __________________________________________________________________________
  6. __________________________________________________________________________
  7. __________________________________________________________________________
  8. __________________________________________________________________________
  9. __________________________________________________________________________
  10. __________________________________________________________________________

Ex. 4.2.6 Writing  Write a short positive and negative answer to each question, e.g.

Ex. 4.2.7 Reading  a) Complete each sentence with an auxiliary verb. b) Write the tense. c) Write a short answer to each question, with one of the four possible answers:

Ex. 4.2.8 Speaking & Listening  Describing things:

Students work in pairs, small groups, or the whole group. One student thinks of a word and writes it down, keeping it secret. The other students ask yes / no questions to try to guess what it is. The original student can only reply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, until the others guess their word and they show their paper. To make it more difficult, you could limit the number of questions, e.g. ten or twenty. Variation, the student who thinks of the word could be role-playing as somebody else, e.g. the President, a pop star, a famous scientist, etc. The others have to guess the word and the persona of the student.

Ex. 4.2.9 Speaking & Listening  Improvisation game:

Students work in pairs. One interviews the other. Whatever the first student says, the other must reply ‘Yes’. Variation: the other must reply ‘No.’ This can be very funny, with the student who is interviewing asking increasingly strange questions, while the other has to reply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. For example:

Student A:        Are you a teacher?

Student B:        Yes.

Student A:        Do you like in a forest?

Student B:        Yes.

Student A:        Have you ever seen a lion?

Student B:        Yes.

Student A:        Did you give it a plate of sandwiches?

Student B:        Yes.

…and so on.